The United States Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation ("Judicial Panel") denied a motion to centralize four lawsuits, all arising in the aftermath of a forced landing of a Beechcraft Bonanza A36 airplane shortly after its takeoff from the Savannah/ Hilton Head International Airport on August 28, 2017. The forced landing killed both the pilot – Randall Hunter — and the plane's two passengers, William and Catherine Cocke. The pilot's wife and children ("Hunter Plaintiffs"), the executor of the estate of the deceased passengers, and the guardians of the deceased passengers' five children ("Cocke Plaintiffs") filed lawsuits in Nebraska and Georgia against various defendants. The litigation ultimately consisted of two lawsuits filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Georgia and two lawsuits filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Nebraska.
The Cocke Plaintiffs filed a motion pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1407 to centralize pretrial proceedings in the Southern District of Georgia for all the cases. The Hunter Plaintiffs and some defendants supported centralization of pretrial proceedings; however, other defendants opposed the motion. 28 U.S.C. § 1407 (a) provides that "civil actions involving one or more common questions of fact... may be transferred to any district for coordinated or consolidated pretrial proceedings [where] transfers for such proceedings will be for the convenience of parties and witnesses and will promote the just and efficient conduct of such actions."
Ultimately, the Judicial Panel denied the motion to centralize, after concluding that "centralization is not necessary for the convenience of the parties and witnesses or to further the just and efficient conduct of this litigation." In reaching its conclusion, the Judicial Panel noted that that there were "only four actions, brought by two plaintiff groups, in two districts, with no indication of more to come." The Judicial Panel stated that difficulty in obtaining personal jurisdiction over a party is generally not a pertinent factor in deciding whether to grant centralization. The Judicial Panel also noted that it had previously denied centralization in other cases involving similar aircraft crashes. Given that there were relatively few parties, few actions, and few districts involved, the Judicial Panel determined that "informal coordination and cooperative efforts by the involved courts and parties are practicable and preferable to formal centralization under Section 1407." In re Air Crash near Ellabell, Ga., 396 F. Supp. 3d 1357 (J.P.M.L. 2019)
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